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Q&A: Family Violence

Q&A: Family Violence

On 24 February 2015, ABC's Q&A program featured a panel of guests discussing the issue of violence against women. The panel was comprised of, Natasha Stott Despoja, Rosie Batty, Tim Cartwright, Charlie King and Simon Santosha.

Women in abusive relationships often have great difficulty leaving their partner. Even once free from the relationship, a woman may find it hard to extricate herself totally from her former partner's control. When there is a child or children involved, the situation becomes even more complicated.

One of the issues raised by Rosie Batty was that during their relationship, her husband was very emotionally and psychologically abusive towards her and her child, Luke. Often, this is an allegation made by victims of violence in family law proceedings, but one that is difficult to establish or substantiate.

The Family Law Act was amended in 2012 by the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence) Act. This Act introduced a new section 4AB, which sets examples of behaviour which constitute family violence. Generally, family violence means "violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person's family or causes that family member to be fearful." Section 4AB sets out the following examples:

  1. An assault;
  2. A sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour;
  3. Stalking;
  4. Repeated derogatory taunts;
  5. Intentionally damaging or destroying property;
  6. Intentionally causing death or injury to an animal;
  7. Unreasonably denying the family member the financial autonomy that he or she would otherwise have had;
  8. Unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of the family member, or his or her child, at a time when the family member is entirely or predominantly dependent on the person for financial support;
  9. Preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture; or
  10. Unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member's family, of his or her liberty.

The definition of family violence is broad, and designed so as to capture a range of violent or threatening behaviour. Emotional or psychological abuse of a partner or a child falls within the definition of family violence.

In the case of Orwell & Watson [2008] FamCAFC 62, the mother alleged that the child’s father was manipulative, psychologically abusive, and controlling. The court found that this allegation was true, and looked to several examples of this behaviour, including:

  • Between 2001 and 2002, the father had taped around 50 phone conversations between him and the mother, which he proceeded to send to family and friends. The father said he did this because at that time, the mother was breaking agreements and he wanted to be able to ensure his continued access to the child. Contrary to this, the court found that the father did so because he wanted to undermine the support the mother had from her family and friends.
  • At one point in the proceedings, all contact between the child and the father had been stopped, but the father was still permitted to send gifts to the child. One of the gifts the father sent was a ‘Where’s Wally?’ book, where the aim is to find small pictures of Wally drawn amongst crowds. The father had pasted tiny pictures of himself into the book.
  • Since the conclusion of their relationship, the father had continually sent text messages to the mother. These were more sophisticated, hurtful, and detailed ‘verbal lashings’ against the mother.

If you have any questions about leaving a violent relationship or how to protect your children after you leave, please do not hesitate to contact Swan Family Lawyers on 8221 7020 or send an email to

Call us now on 8227 1970 and we will chat with you over the phone free of charge.

Family law, divorce, wills and estate specialist family lawyers for Adelaide and South Australia.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Nothing in this blog should be deemed to create or constitute a solicitor-client relationship between any readers and Swan Family Lawyers. A solicitor-client relationship is created only when this firm agrees to represent someone and a written engagement agreement or engagement letter is signed by both the client and solicitor. In all cases, the reader should consult his or her own solicitor for advice. The information in this blog is based on Australian law.